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Pop Culture Symbology

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From Eldritch Abominations to a kids' animated show
Despite its corporate image, Disney still had a savvy, playful element among its employees, and their artists still amused themselves by inserting hidden symbolism in Disney products. Langdon would never forget one of his students bringing in a DVD of The Lion King and pausing the film to reveal a freeze‑frame in which the word SEX was clearly visible, spelled out by floating dust particles over Simba’s head. Although Langdon suspected this was more of a cartoonist’s sophomoric prank than any kind of enlightened allusion to pagan human sexuality, he had learned not to underestimate Disney’s grasp of symbolism. The Little Mermaid was a spellbinding tapestry of spiritual symbols so specifically goddess‑related that they could not be coincidence.

It is a common assumption that to find traces of ancient secrets, mysteries and conspiracies, you have to look at ancient objects. Nowadays nearly everyone is familiar with the concept of hidden symbolism in Egyptian pyramids, Renaissance paintings and medieval manuscripts, but no one would look at the latest comic issue or a Saturday morning cartoon... But what if everyone is wrong?

This trope refers to storylines in which a modern trademark or a work of popular culture (especially a lighthearted/comical one, like a children's cartoon or a video game) is revealed to have hidden layers related to mysticism and/or conspiracies (it may be either real-life media or a Show Within a Show). For instance, imagine that one of the Scooby-Doo monsters symbolizes a real-life Eldritch Abomination, and the episode dedicated to it shows an actual summoning ritual. Or imagine that the trading cards you used to collect as a child contain clues on finding the Holy Grail.

This trope is especially common in postmodern fiction which tends to reject the boundaries between the "high" and the "low".


    open/close all folders 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Under the Silver Lake lives and breathes this trope: the protagonist, an amateur detective, attempts to solve a mystery by finding clues in pop music played backwards, video game magazines, and images on cereal boxes. Surprisingly, he succeeds in finding the answer... or does he?

  • The Illuminatus! trilogy contains lots of this. For instance, Bugs Bunny is revealed to be a symbol of Lovecraft's shoggoths, and "You Wascal Wabbit" was the password of Illuminati agents in Hollywood.
  • The Da Vinci Code makes a mention of Grail symbolism hidden within Disney cartoons, from Snow White to the Little Mermaid.
  • Foucault's Pendulum, which is a savage deconstruction of conspiracy fiction, has the protagonists inventing a parody conspiracy theory that connects Templars, Rosicrucians, Freemasons, etc., as well as modern-day fiction and cartoons.
  • Victor Pelevin's novels almost entirely consist of this trope. For instance, Generation P involves the goddess Ishtar whose corporeal form consists of the totality of advertising images.
  • Thomas Pynchon's novels also feature lots of this. For example, The Crying of Lot 49 implied that the villainous character dressed in black from one of the early Porky Pig cartoons was a reference to a real-life secret organization called Trystero.

    Live-Action TV 

    Video Games 

    Web Comics 

    Real Life 
  • Proponents of the theory that Paul McCartney died in 1966 and was replaced by a double like to find hidden meaning in The Beatles' songs and images on album covers. In the most severe cases — in those issued before 1966.


Video Example(s):


Nintendo Power Magazine

Sam combines a level map from Nintendo Power Magazine with another map from a cereal box to find the secret hideout of the cultists.

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Main / PopCultureSymbology

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